It should be clear by now: I am a geek. Aside from all the normal quirks, I’m a computer geek, which means that I dream about systems and I subcounciously try to optimize things, make them more rational if not more efficient… I’m told it’s borderline rude, sometimes.


There is one thing geeks and non geeks who actually encounter large amounts of people all at once agree on: we suck at demodynamics.

Look at a school of fish or a flight of sparrows. Even though they have no brain to speak of compared to ours, you don’t see them bumping into each other even though their speed and group density is a receipe for disaster. Imagine a bunch of people you say “run around for a half hour, but you have to stay together as a group” to. When you’re done laughing, you’ll know what I mean.

Why am I rambling about demodynamics anyway?

Well, professionally, you can draw a lot of parallels between the two following situations:

  • a group of people is supposed to run together towards a common goal without knowing the route and finding some difficulties along the way
  • a group of people is supposed to deliver a product that has been outlined in somewhat vague (from an engineer’s point of view) fashion

And you see the same kind of dynamics: people shoving, people showing off, but also people helping each other when facing a wall etc…

Yesterday, I was in the subway (but you can have similar occurences when driving), and a couple of ladies rushed past me in a corridor, only to go half my speed ahead of me, effectively blocking me, because they were side by side.

Now, the worst part is I don’t think they even realized. They were side by side because they were chatting, and going slower for the same reason. Whoever is placed in that situation will undoubtedly sigh heavily, at the very least. But the same can be said for people who honk at you when you can’t pass the truck in front of you, etc…

As I said, people suck at demodynamics. Evaluating the right time to yield a priority you do have, in order to fluidifying traffic for everyone, including you, is a hard thing to do, since you basically can’t trust anyone around you to act with the same plan, let alone intent.

When you think about it, it’s all about two things: telegraphing your intent (and your plan), and being on the lookout for other people telegraphing their intent. That’s level zero. Then you have to know when to enforce and when to yield, and telegraphing that as well.

Most people think the problem lies in the second layer. We are a competitive race, and we naturally expect our solution to be followed. But my impression is that we completely lack the understanding of level zero. It’s not that our plan is the best one… It’s that it’s the only one.

Talking about this to my friends in the business and outside of it, we kind of agreed that people who like to do things when they have to relinquish control to have a better time are the ones looking around for cues and avoid bumping into other people (as understood in a general sense): people who dance a lot, musicians, construction workers, military or military inspired people,…

In any project I go with, it is painstakingly obvious that if someone I depend on fails, I’m screwed. If for nothing else, that makes a duty of mine to help this person. To some degree, the same can be said about people “above” me. I have to point at potential problems early and help them make a decision.

Unfortunately, as with the people in the subway or on the road, it doesn’t seem to be that obvious. Here in France, we go back and forth on a mandatory class taught to all kids that’s called “civic instruction”, or whatever the name that thing might have these days. Is there any way we could make that a demodynamics course, or a dance class?



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